Graham and Joyce kindly took us for lunch and dropped us off at the bus stop in San Ignacio. We caught the local chicken bus to Belize city, however after a few miles into the journey-the engine started to belch out a load of smoke! "EVACUATE" shouted the driver-so everybody hurried off the bus and stood a safe distance away! A passing taxi driver drove slowly past and in his wonderful Belizean accent shouted "Mon look-the bus is on fire" whilst laughing his head off! Good business for taxis I guess!
Eventually another bus came and everyone piled on. We got to Belize City without further problems and caught a taxi to our hotel for the night. The following day we went down to the marina and caught a small water taxi to Caye Caulker which took about 45 minutes. The sea was beautiful-aqua green and very clear. As we approached the island-some dolphins swam ahead of the boat. Caye Caulker is a small limestone coral island off the coat of Belize, in the Caribbean sea.
The island was wonderful. The motto, which is painted everywhere, is "Go slow"! We did not need telling twice! We sauntered up the street to our small guesthouse and checked in for 3 nights. We could see the sea from the hotel and it was possible to walk around the island in a hour or so as it is tiny. We went to visit Caveman tour company-as we had booked a snorkeling trip for the following day. We met Gerald-the owner`s brother-in -law, who was in charge that day. We started chatting to him and before we knew it-he had bought us a Belkin beer (Belizean beer)! He told us about his long career in the police force, which he was in the process of retiring from. We bought him a beer back and so the story went on for another couple of hours! We then went in search of food-there was so much choice. We settled on the sports bar-overlooking the sea and with our toes in the sand. we had high hopes for the singer, Tsunami Nick, however we left after a few songs as, in our opinion, he did not live up to his name!
The next day we returned to Caveman tours for our all day snorkeling trip. We said hi to our new friend Gerald and met our captain and guides-Harry and George! We love the Belizean names! This was the best snorkeling trip we have ever done. We were a small group of 10 on a medium boat with our 2 guides. We had so many snorkeling stops I lost count-at least 6 or 7! We stopped at the Hol Chan Marine reserve; Shark Ray Alley; Coral gardens and more! Each stop was different from the previous one and so memorable. In Shark Ray alley we swam with tens of nurse sharks who surrounded our boat. Nurse Sharks are OK, they’re slow-moving bottom-dwellers, and usually harmless to humans. However, they can be huge – up to 14 feet (4.3 meters). Plus they have strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth and they will bite defensively if stepped on or overly bothered! We didn`t bother them and gave them sufficient space!
We saw various species of sting rays at a number of places. Most stingrays have one or more barbed stingers on the tail, which are used exclusively in self-defence. The stinger may reach a length of around 35 cm (14 in), and its underside has two grooves with venom glands. All I (Jen) could think about when I saw them floating beneath me was the sad end of Steve Irwin-so I had a quick look at them and then swam away quickly!
We saw the most beautiful coral and colourful fish-our guide took us on a hour and a quarter snorkeling tour of the reef, where we swam after him and he dived down and pointed things out to us. We also saw a massive leatherback sea turtle-the largest of all turtles. Adults can measure up to 7 feet in total length and weigh up to 1.540lbs in weight! He was splendid. We snorkeled over the shipwreck of a huge barge-admiring the fish and coral which had grown on it.
Another highlight for us was swimming with 3 huge manatees as we have never seen them before. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. They measure up to 4.0 metres (13.1 ft) long, weigh as much as 590 kilograms (1,300 lb), and have paddle-like flippers. Manatees are occasionally called sea cows, as they are slow plant-eaters, peaceful and similar to cows on land. They often graze on water plants in tropical seas. It was wonderful to watch them whilst they grazed and occasionally came up for air!
We finished with a trip to see some sea horses and to feed the Tarpons-massive fish-which can make spectacular leaps into the air! We had to hold a small sardine between our fingers and the tarpon would make an unexpected leap and grab it! I tried 3 times-however dropped the fish in each time in nervous anticipation of the fish leaping out at me!
We dragged ourselves away from Caye Caulker and returned to San Ignacio to collect Ruby. Graham and his boys had given her a full service, replaced the hub seal and replaced the clutch master cylinder. We took Graham and Joyce for lunch as a thank you and they invited us to a boxing event in the town the following evening! The event was a charity event but had professional boxers there as well as amateurs. Well what a great night! We had the best seats in the house-eye to eye with the boxers in the ring, on the front row. We loved the local crowd who really got into it-particularly when a Belizean was fighting! There were boxers from Mexico, Guatemala and Belize fighting-they were all tough wiry little things who gave it their all! My favourite fighters were the Mexicans who just did not give up. One fight, between 2 professional boxers-a Mexican and Belizean went the full 4 rounds. The Belizean boxer kept backing away and the Mexican boxer was doing all the work. We were shouting and hollering and generally supported the tough little Mexican boxer (the rest of the crowd the Belizean boxer!). It was pretty obvious to us all that the Mexican had won on points BUT the judges declared it a draw! Well, that was not fair. Even the Belizeans were laughing in disbelief! I leapt out of my seat and began to boo VERY LOUDLY and gave the thumbs down sign to the referee and chanted "Mexico Mexico"!Gav worriedly said "Jen-remember the crowd are Belizeans". "But it is not fair" I yelled between my boos!
Before we left San Ignacio we visited some more Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech-the site was a palatial, hilltop home for an elite Maya family. We spent an hour or so admiring the structures and the views from the hill top.
We left San Ignacio ,first saying goodbye to our new friends Graham and Joyce at the garage, and made a stop at the Belize zoo-the slogan for which is "welcome to the best little zoo in the world"! The Belize Zoo was started in 1983, as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals which had been used in making documentary films about tropical forests. Shortly after the backyard "zoo" began, it was quickly realized that its Belizean visitors were unfamiliar with the different species of wildlife which shared their country. This very aspect fomented the commitment to develop the little zoo into a dynamic wildlife education center. Today, The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre exhibits over 175 animals, representing over 45 native species. The Zoo keeps animals which were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoological institutions. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre believes that by bringing the people of Belize closer to the animals which are their natural heritage, they will feel proud of these special resources, and want to protect them for future generations.
We loved it here. The zoo was beautifully laid out in the jungle and it was possible to see the animals up close. The signs for each of the animal enclosures were charming, funny and informative. We saw 5 species of wild cats including the jaguar, Ocelot and puma; Belize`s national animal-the Tapir; monkeys and wonderful birds including toucans, parrot and eagles.
However, the animal encounters had not finished for the day. We drove to the community monkey sanctuary, where we were going to camp for the night. As we pulled up, a tour of only 2 others were about to set off around part of the sanctuary so we joined then. This was a wonderful experience. The guide told us all about the protection of the wild monkeys and then he called them down. We got the chance to feed two of them, including a mother. We held some small pieces of banana in our hands and they climbed down, took hold of our hand with their tiny fingers and gently ate the banana from our hand. We did this individually to each monkey. It was amazing to feel their tiny soft hands and watch them as they literally stared into your eyes before eating the banana. Gav said they recognised a kindred spirit in me! Haha! We also saw iguanas in the trees and a crocodile floating down the river! What an excellent day for wildlife! We camped at the sanctuary overnight and were a mixture of amused and scared the next morning as the camp site owners rushed to check the toilet for snakes before we used them!
Our final stop in Belize was Orange Walk, near to the Maya site of Lamanai. We camped for 2 nights at a fab place on the banks of a river, full of crocodiles! We were parked literally on the edge of the river and we loved looking out for wildlife, and from the roof tent. Mr P was the owner, a great man, who does a lot for the community-which is very poor. He told us about the crocs, the boa constrictors and other delights that frequent the waters and his lodge! He got some raw chicken and threw it on the edge of the water by the bank. We watched in awe as up to 3 crocodiles, circled and eventually came for the food. Gav and I were sitting right next to the bank tentatively watching a croc as it inched its way towards the food. Suddenly there was a huge commotion and splash. I thought it was making a dash for us, as we have lots more meat on us than chicken(!) and I legged it to the lodge where others were watching. In hot pursuit was Gav! We gave them a good laugh and we think the crocs had actually spooked themselves and the splashing was them going back under the water.
We took a boat for the 38 mile journey down the river to the Maya ruins at Lamanai. This was our first land based group tour and with hindsight, we wished we had driven it ourselves as there were too many people on the boat and for the tour of the ruins. We enjoyed the boat ride through the jungle-spotting a baby croc, some birds and bats. Lamanai was once a major City of the Maya civilization and was renowned for its exceptionally long occupation spanning 3 millenia. The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple and High Temple.The summit of this latter structure gave us a wonderful view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon. The guide was excellent, even though we were a huge group, and he took us around the main temples and sites.
Our time in Belize sadly came to an end. We must start our journey North, back through Mexico, with a shipping date for Ruby in the USA in mind. We both love Belize and would highly recommend it. The scenery is stunning-lush and green. The wildlife is wonderful. The people are just brilliant-kind, funny, charming, helpful- even in the face of huge poverty. We should never forget how very privileged we are to travel in other people`s countries and share their resources. We should always travel with humility, humbleness and humanity. Sadly, some people have forgotten that as they swan around in their big vehicles, judging the wonderful people from the countries we are guests of. You might be able to tell that my cage has been rattled. Maybe more on that another time.
We crossed the border at Corozal into Chetumal. We paid our Belizean exit fee of 40 BZ each, had our passports stamped out of the country, then had Ruby stamped out of the country. We drove into Mexico-filled in our visitor card, paid the fee of about 533 pesos each and went through customs. We already have the temporary import permit for Ruby from last time and it is still valid, so one less task this time.
We will start in Yucatan and slowly head North, going to places we did not visit on our way South. We have approximately 6 weeks before we need to take Ruby for shipping and 8 weeks before we fly home! Where has the time gone?!